Was Y2K doom-and-gloom hype? No, says U.S.

Despite the extraordinarily smooth computer date rollover from 1999 to 2000in both poor and rich nations, observers say the past three years ofintense attention on the Year 2000 problem in the United States was notnecessarily a case of overkill.

"I think it's too early to make that call," said Bruce McConnell, directorof the International Y2K Cooperation Center, when asked whether the Year2000 problem had simply been overhyped.

He said it was too early to tell what the overall effect of the problemwill be, suggesting that unfixed Year 2000 problems may still emerge withinthe next couple of weeks. He said Year 2000 problems that may surface incoming weeks could likely be in business or back-office applications ratherthan in embedded computer chips.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said the overwhelmingly good news thatcomputers worldwide managed the Year 200 rollover without difficulty didnot mean that the federal government or other organizations had exaggeratedYear 2000 risks. The danger "was not hyped," he said in a 9:30 p.m.statement Dec. 31 at the government's central computer information center.

Worldwide, the date ticked from Dec. 31, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2000, without themajor computer catastrophes that some technology observers had expected.The United States, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars fixing Year2000 problems rolled over practically without incident. But so did poorcountries, of which many have a low degree of automation. And so did othermodernized nations that may not have attacked the Year 2000 problem asaggressively and meticulously as did the United States.

Some congressional members had singled out China, Russia and Italy asnations that may suffer the most troubling Year 2000 consequences. Russia,especially, was a country of concern. For example, in August a Pentagonmessage from the Defense Attache Office in the U.S. Embassy disclosed thatthe Russian Ministry of Defense had decided to bypass "due to timeconstraints" the laborious system certification process that requiresprogrammers to examine every line of code to determine whether it containsYear 2000 bugs.

Although many countries spent much less time and money on the date compliance problem than the United States did and had few problems, it would have been irresponsible of the U.S. government not to have responded as it did, Richardson said. "Things have gone well because government, industry and the public worked together" to solve the problem, Richardson said.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, who also spoke at the informationcenter, agreed that the United States had to deal with the date complianceproblem "aggressively." The United States is more heavily dependent oncomputers than any other country, he said.Some of the problems countries would have encountered were probably prevented byU.S. action. U.S. airlines, for example, constitute half the world's aviation, he said.

The sense of urgency generated to prepare computers for the new millenniumwas appropriate, said Harris Miller, president of the InformationTechnology Association of America. Without fixes, problems would have beenwidespread "in country after country and company after company, and thereaction would have been much different" than the sense that the UnitedStates had overreacted, he said.

Paul Lacouture, group president for Bell Atlantic Corp.'s network servicesunit, also denied that Year 2000 concerns and attention in recent yearswere the result of false hype. "I don't think it was hype at all," he said."When we were doing our testing, we found some serious issues that neededto be corrected."

Bell Atlantic, which provides telecommunication service to federal agenciesin the Washington area, spent close to $400 million making sure it was Year2000 compliant.

Nationwide, organizations in the United States have spent $100 billionmaking sure they were Year 2000 compliant, with federal agencies spendingabout $8.5 billion, according to John Koskinen, chairman of the President'sCouncil on Year 2000 Conversion. In 1996, some technology consulting andmarketing groups had estimated the United States would as much as $300billion, with the federal government spending $30 billion, to fix computersfor the Year 2000 problem, he said.

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